My only real knowledge of Little Women prior to seeing Greta Gerwig’s movie came entirely from that bit in Friends where Joey puts the book in the freezer. I’d not read the book or seen previous film adaptations, so I was going in completely unaware of what to expect. Luckily for me, it was an absolute delight from start for finish, full of warmth and tenderness and a stellar cast on absolute top form.
The movie chronicles the childhood and young adulthood of the four March sisters, each with their own distinct personalities, goals and ambitions. Saoirse Ronan’s aspiring writer Jo is the film’s anchor and Ronan proves again what a tremendous talent she is, giving us a determined and fiery heroine who is set on making her own way in the world.
Florence Pugh’s Amy goes through perhaps the most noticeable transition of the sisters, morphing from bratty younger sibling and thorn in Jo’s side, to an equally strong-willed woman who also wishes to be master of her own fate. A memorable speech she delivers to Timothee Chalamet’s childhood pal Laurie about marriage and the economic reality for women of the time was actually a very late insert into the script by Gerwig. Subsequent research informs me that this was one of several successful updates and tweaks the director made to Louisa May Alcott’s original story, all of which add a modern flourish while still embracing the author’s key themes.
The use of duel overlapping time frames is an excellent stylistic choice by Gerwig as the colourful and cosy glow of childhood contrasts starkly with the cold harshness of adulthood. It is the perfect representation of sepia tinged nostalgia versus cold hard reality.
Gerwig’s final touch of artistic licence at the film’s end surrounding Jo’s concessions to her book publisher is a neat addition which adds a deft extra layer to this classic story.